Tiger Recruitment: What business leaders should look for in an executive assistant
Zahra is Head of Tiger Recruitment in MENA, managing a broad range of clients including those within oil and gas, financial services and professional services sectors. Based in Dubai, Zahra has formerly held roles as a C-suite EA, a private PA and business manager between Dubai and London, so she has a unique insight into the individual requirements by both candidates and clients.
What business leaders should look for in an executive assistant
A good executive assistant (EA) is worth their weight in gold – and more now than ever. As the pace and pressure of work increases, and digital technology makes it harder to switch off, EAs provide much-needed support. Not only do EAs help executives to manage their increasingly hectic schedules, but they can also play a role in helping to manage stress levels and achieve that elusive work-life balance.
Research by Tiger Recruitment found that 75% of business leaders say having an assistant helps them manage stress and mental wellbeing, while those with a PA work around nine hours less per week than those without. PAs ease the burden of leadership in a number of ways, from giving executives more time to reflect and think, to acting as a ‘gatekeeper’, and helping them to eat healthily and exercise. Almost a quarter of bosses also say their EA enables them to spend more time at home with their family.
But finding the perfect PA isn’t easy, as it depends so much on personality and cultural fit. What suits one executive might not suit another, so getting the recruitment right is critical. Here are a few pointers on what to look for:
Personality fit: Businesses often make the mistake of hiring for skillset alone, but then find that the ‘ideal candidate’ leaves after a few months as the culture or personality fit isn’t right. This is even more important when hiring for EAs, because they work so closely with the executive that they’re brought into support. So, while skills and experience are important, ensure you spend time digging into candidates' work styles and character traits before making a decision. One helpful approach is to carry out a practical task as part of the selection process. And, if in doubt, we advise going with your gut.
Resilience: EAs need to be able to deal with a whole range of high-pressure situations and with a variety of different people. Part of their role is to be the gatekeeper to their boss and that means constantly deflecting calls and emails, and mediating with third parties, so that you don’t have to. They can frequently end up in the firing line, but a good PA should be able to take this kind of pressure in their stride. Their job is to ensure that your work-life runs as smoothly as possible.
Discretion: It is essential to be able to completely trust your EA, as they will be privy to a myriad of confidential and sometimes sensitive information about you and your business. Discretion is therefore one of the top behaviours to look for in potential candidates, so be sure to ask about this during the interview stage. For example, have they handled confidential information before and what challenges did they face as a result?
Flexibility: As an executive, your daily routine probably involves travel, long days, late nights, or liaising with colleagues across the globe, and your EA needs to be able to support you, irrespective of the agenda on a given day. That means you need an assistant who is flexible and thrives in a fast-changing environment. The best EAs have the ability to anticipate your needs, whatever is happening.
A positive attitude: In times of high pressure, the right EA can act as an important calming influence for executives and the wider team. Whether it’s assisting with last minute admin or technical issues before a big meeting, making a round of much-needed tea or coffee, or dashing for a lunch run when you don’t have time to eat, a positive attitude and reassuring manner make a huge difference. As the first port of call when you are approached about professional matters, being approachable and down to earth is also key.
The potential to grow: Some businesses are realising that support staff are a highly skilled and adaptable resource that can be deployed strategically across various departments to consolidate existing teams. Traditionally known for taking meeting minutes and organising diaries, EAs are increasingly being called on to support with activities such as marketing, social media management, events management, investor relations, project management and more. So, when choosing an EA, try to find a candidate who can go beyond the ‘to do’ list to pick up new skills and responsibilities as required.
Staying power: Finally, a CV that shows that an EA candidate has jumped from job-to-job should be an immediate red flag, as they will no doubt do the same again. The most successful EA relationships are those that stand the test of time, so if a candidate jumps ship too quickly, it is a sign that something isn’t right. Be sure to question any short-term roles during the interview process, as this is should give you a powerful insight into a candidate’s personality.
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.